We must choose to go to the moon, again

Daniel Michon | Op-Ed Submission

In recent days, the proposed budget for the U.S. government has begun to undergo public scrutiny, with many parts drawing notice from all corners of the nation. Amongst the proposed changes lies the fate of NASA’s Constellation Program, as funding for the project will be cut off in 2011. This willful destruction of America’s manned spaceflight heritage is inexplicable and should not be overlooked. The United States has served as a leader in spaceflight capabilities for over five decades, and as President Kennedy said in 1962, “this country…was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.” As such, the necessity for the United States to continue to develop its manned spaceflight abilities and move forward into this new decade is now painfully obvious, as the unknown beckons us.

The proposed budget not only cuts funding to the Moon project, but to the Constellation Program as a whole, which includes development of the Ares V rocket, the successor to Apollo’s Saturn V rocket. Essentially, a cut in funding for this project stops all development of the United States’ manned space travel capabilities and fundamentally halts all progress toward an eventual Mars landing. This setback will place the United States at a disadvantage in an era where more and more countries begin to explore manned space flight as an option. China conducted its first spacewalk in August of 2008 and has announced plans to land a man on the moon by 2024. Last week, the Indian Space Research Organization formally submitted a request for government funding for a manned moon space flight in 2016.

Many other countries, including Iran, North Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Romania, Turkey and the European Union, have expressed interest in conducting manned space flight missions in the future, as the space around the earth grows progressively more cluttered. In an ever-evolving and globalized world, the toll that the United States will suffer from falling behind in manned spaceflight capabilities (not to mention the country’s need to now rely on other space agencies to travel beyond the atmosphere) could prove disastrous.

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Perhaps the most compelling argument to be made, however, is nothing more than its appeal to our human nature. Since the days of antiquity, man has searched beyond his borders, exploring strange new worlds and making bold new discoveries. The days of Apollo only continued this tradition, as we left the mortal confines of our planet and saw firsthand what our universe had to offer. Now, when the opportunity arises to touch the cusp of the heavens once more and reach beyond to other planets, we willingly hold back and focus instead on unmanned probes. These lifeless robots fail to capture the public’s imagination; they come and go and the world moves on. They’re excellent at collecting raw data, but lack the human spark that engrossed the nation throughout the early days of NASA.

As interest wanes, support for science will fall until space becomes the domain of commercial pursuits. When that happens, what rules will apply? The public support and massive funds necessary to go back to the moon will no longer be there, and travel beyond our planet will no longer be possible.

Manned spaceflight is a continuation of the human dream of exploration, the inquisitiveness that is inside all of us. Now the opportunity presents itself for us to live out this dream, to not only discover what lies beyond our home, but to see it with human eyes and to feel it with human hands. We choose to suppress our own nature and send robots instead. The public will support new endeavors; it is up to our leaders to follow suit.

In September of 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke about the nation’s space efforts at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Midway through his speech, he commented on why he chose to undertake such an enormous task whilst the country’s space program had lately been struggling.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one which we intend to win.”

Daniel is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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